A chance encounter with a resident during the early days of the COVID-19 crisis gave Dr. Daniel Gaballa the confidence to navigate in a challenging environment.

Before COVID-19, Dr. Gaballa visited The New Jewish Home just once a month to see a small group of patients as part of his training in geriatric medicine. Having already completed training in Internal Medicine, Dr. Gaballa is now pursuing a two-year geriatrics fellowship at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. 

Since the 1980s, The New Jewish Home physicians and clinicians have provided months-long training to Mount Sinai geriatrics fellows, teaching them to care for both long-term care residents and subacute patients.  Dr. Gaballa’s two-month training period began in early March, just as COVID-19 arrived in New York City.  

As COVID-19 hit the nursing home, and the needs intensified, though, Dr. Gaballa was asked to be here every day. For seven weeks straight, he has been at The New Jewish Home full time, caring for patients and residents with COVID and without, managing their infections, geriatric syndromes, and routine medical problems.  

Originally from South Florida, Dr. Gaballa attended George Washington University Medical School and completed his residency at Penn State College of Medicine. He decided to pursue the geriatrics fellowship at Mount Sinai because he wanted extra training to care for the complex needs of older adults. 

As the crisis grew, he was impressed with The New Jewish Home’s ability to manage during the most intense days of the COVID-19 pandemic. He admired the way the medical director, Dr. Ruth Spinner, stayed up to date with timelines from the Department of Health and implemented them in the nursing home. “We were always ahead of the curve in following guidelines and practices,” he said. “The staff’s quick actions and policies saved lives and mitigated infection spread. Of course, the nursing staff is phenomenal. They keep an eye on everybody and give excellent care.”

During his first full-time week during the COVID outbreak, he met a resident who was in her late 90s. When he walked into her room, Dr. Gaballa said, he knew something was wrong. “She was slumped over, breathing fast. She was on oxygen, and the cannula had fallen out of her nose. I yelled for help, got her vital signs, and put her oxygen cannula back on. I checked on her every hour or so, until she stabilized and I could have a conversation with her.” The resident said she was so grateful to him for coming in and checking on her. She was concerned, though, about her family, especially a nephew who had visited her frequently before new precautions prevented him from visiting. 

Dr. Gaballa and the patient’s social worker collaborated to find a way to help. The social worker contacted the nephew, and he got the family together so they could see her and talk to her. “Her nephew called to say that it was the greatest gift anyone could have given the family. They were so touched that someone went the extra step to connect them,” he said.

“That interaction gave me confidence as I set forth into uncharted territory. In doing the best I could to navigate, I made a difference to someone.”